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Hearts and Bones and Blood
#17
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As the boy scrambled to get his bearings, Ben saw the results of what his actions had made the boy do. His hands, significantly smaller and leaner than Ben's own were caked in dirt and blood. The auror frowned at the boy's hands and sighed gravely. In the span of less than a few minutes he'd managed to go from a lover to a protector, then an offender to a....what? The weight of what lay on both his and Ari's shoulders seemed insurmountable. They'd been caught by this boy, and he would do with the information what he would. As an Auror, he knew how to look threatening when he wanted to be – a feat he certainly accomplished with this boy, if somewhat unintentionally – but he most certainly wasn't dark by any means and there was still some semblance of logic that took hold as he attempted to process what was happening.

His thoughts were interrupted by a familiar feeling atop his head. Reaching up a hand, he felt the curious lips of the horse he'd sold to the young man in front of him months previously. As the boy attempted to chastize the horse, Ben cracked a smile - the first in what seemed like a year, despite it being a matter of thirty minutes or less since he and Ari had made contact that evening. Ben placed a hand on his knee and stood up with a grunt as the horse was bid to step back a few paces. As Mr. Holm repeated his apologies, he almost wanted to chuckle again as the foreigner seemed to completely gloss over what was actually the issue here. "It was a mistake." Ben echoed Ari, though his words were no less meaningful.

His voice was heavy; the horror and shame he'd seen in Mr. Holm's eyes mirrored the same expression he'd seen in Ari's eyes after that eventful night all those years ago. The realization sat uncomfortably with the auror and he attempted to tamp it down. In an effort to bridge the gap of familiarity between the two other men, Ben gestured to Galahad. "I sold Mr. Holm this horse a few month's ago," As the words left his mouth, he registered the first of the boy's excuses. something about the horse's shoe.

He peered down at Galahad's shoe and saw it was indeed loose. In fact, there seemed to be a nail loose that was digging into the horse's foot, only obvious by the small amount of blood apparent on the horse's hoof. Through the haze of the night, Ben made it a point to apologize to Ari later for all the time he'd brought himself to the healer in danger, seriously bleeding or ill. Even this amount of blood in one evening was making his head spin. How did the man do it?

"Mr. Holm," he said evenly, his tone as gentle as he could make it. "I apologize for my actions tonight." The boy had apologized to them; if Ari accepted it, then so would he. "Please let Ari heal you."


[Image: scrVnQ.jpg]
#18
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Galahad, the ebony stallion, had been understandably tentative as the ruckus began, but now he'd deemed it necessary to inject some levity into the situation. And it worked, as both men (Bragi considered himself the sapling among the trees) seemed amused — especially Mr Sterling, who allowed himself a smile. This made Bragi exhale quietly with relief. From the moment the barn door had been slammed shut behind him, the young Dane had started to fear he would not be allowed to leave; at least not in tact. That fear was ebbing at last.

So too was his bone-deep shame, as it was now shared somewhat by Mr Sterling — something which surprised Bragi very much. The fellow had nothing to apologise for. Bragi had trespassed, Bragi had fallen and grazed himself. This fear, this blood, this "mistake" was not the fault of Mr Sterling at all. Bragi might've attempted to tell him as such, but then both men gently insisted he have his grazed palms seen to.

Uneasy, and still feeling very small, Bragi moved a step closer to "Ari", who had concerned eyes the colour of dusk. He did give off the air of a healer. "Thank you, sir", he said quietly, presenting his hands uncertainly for inspection.

"Erm... you've nothing to apologise for, Mr Sterling", he finally summoned up the courage to say so. "You didn't hurt me, or wrong me in any way. I'm the intruder who interrupted your eve-evening."

Oh Merlin, why did he have to say that last part?
#19
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Well, that did explain the horse, and the boy’s thinking to stop here. Ari could forgive that much. What he could not forgive was that they’d thought they were safe out here, a selfish, foolish fancy to think there was ever truly space for them in the way the world had been made.

But there was nothing either of them could do about that now. (Although, looking at Ben now the panic was settling, Ari did wince at the disordered state of the both of them, a sort of terrible obviousness where fingers had run through hair, where buttons had been undone - but there hadn’t exactly been much time to neaten themselves up, had there?)

Unfortunately, there was also no chance that the stranger had gotten over that yet, not with the telling way he’d stumbled over evening. “Their evening”, indeed. Merlin.

Hopefully the young man would be self-conscious enough to eventually blank out the detail. (Ari did worry, though Mr. Holm had seemed to agree, that if he so much as touched his hands now, that the poor boy would be so discomfited by the contact that he would immediately wrench his hands away, that his countenance would turn suddenly to horror.) Perhaps that was why Ari ducked his gaze, did not quite dare to meet his eye.

But, steeling himself, Ari lightly drew his wand, turning the boy’s hands about to inspect the cuts beneath the dirt and hay. They weren’t too deep. “I’m afraid I don’t have any dittany to hand,” he confessed, “but we’ll manage.” Conjuring a clean cloth, he sank into silence to start gently brushing away the muck and blood, and once the thin crisscrossing of red became more visible, Ari traced steadily over them with his wand, watching the cuts close up. Ben might be busying himself by looking over the horse’s hoof, but he rather hoped he would be the one to think of the right sort of thing to say to Mr. Holm now, particularly to broach that last remark. Ben had at least met him before - and Ari wasn’t quite sure how best to phrase it. ‘Thank you for your apologies, but both our fates are now in your hands so it would be nice if you’d perhaps not mention this to anyone?’


#20
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Any hope that he'd harbored for the boy to have just conveniently forgotten what he saw was quelled by his comment. It had been a wonderful evening up until the last few moments; one that Ben knew he and Ari would be discussing when this was all over. Ben sighed, crossing his arms as Mr. Holm timidly held out his hands.

Despite the cloud of fear engulfing him, as he watched Ari tend to Mr. Holm, the corners of Ben's mouth lifted slightly. Watching his lover heal the boy's wounds, he felt a swell of pride for Ari. Ben had been living this life of secrecy for a while now, and while he didn't regret a single moment, he knew it was completely beyond him to try and imagine living alone like that for god knows how long. Ari though, he'd been doing this for so long; knowing that if he'd given this information to the wrong person he could be ostracized and destroyed forever. Yet he still went about his life with a desire to heal people. Even with this young boy who had their fate in his hands, Ben watched with admiration and pride as Ari followed through his work with care and compassion.

Ben, on the other hand...here, he saw two options. Take his sweet time with fixing Galahad's shoe and hope Ari would strike up the conversation with Mr. Holm (he was more of the mediator than him, after all; Ben was the one who'd just made the boy fear for his life, not Ari), or attempt to fix the already fucked up situation they were both in. Ari's place in life was helping people heal their physical wounds. He was a problem solver when it came to healing. Ben was the fixer. He hunted down those who had hurt other people, and it was his job to bring them to justice and provide those hurt with emotional healing.

And here, in front of them, was a young boy who had the power to destroy the one person in the world Ben knew didn't deserve an ounce of it. Mr. Holm was visibly shaken and though Ben knew Ari was likely to believe Mr. Holm at his word, Ben knew what happened to people when they felt threatened. They would say anything to preserve their safety. It wasn't to the boy's fault, it was just second nature; the will to survive that was engrained in everyone who had the desire to live a life. That being said, Ben's instincts were to trust the boy as well. Timid as he was, Ben had never sensed anything about Mr. Holm's countenance that suggested nefarious motivations.

Leaning against the wall, Ben crossed his arms over his chest, bowing his figure in slightly in an attempt to not look too threatening. "I appreciate your acceptance of my apologies, Mr. Holm," he said softly, looking to the ground then back up to the young redhead. "But as it stands, there's still the matter of what you saw that I think concerns us the most." His eyes flickered to Ari again, hoping to Merlin that he was going about it the right way. Was his voice soft enough to not be threatening? Was he phrasing this right?

Ben spent a lot of time interrogating witnesses but his default was always a jovial manner. When facing dark wizards, well...it was already apparent what his attitude was like in situations where he felt threatened. But in a scenario like this – he needed to interrogate the man all the while remaining completely and utterly calm, and ensure that he got his way when all was said and done. Under different circumstances, he might have had not so much trouble. This time, he needed things to turn out his way. There was too much at risk for the both of them for things to turn sour.
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   Ari Fisk


[Image: scrVnQ.jpg]
#21
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Bragi could be profoundly naive; and not just because he was a product of his time. He'd seen a motorcar in London and his instinct had been to assume it moved by magic. He believed in his heart that the noble knights of fairytales still existed. And he was quite sure he didn't know how children were made. And thus it was perhaps inevitable, albeit unusual, that the sweet fellow should come to two conclusions about the anger and confusion of the evening.

As he watched with quiet admiration and relief as "Ari" cured his grazes in a manner that reminded Bragi of when he'd fallen off a horse at aged ten, he had a moment of calm to contemplate these two conclusions. The first was that the source of Mr Sterling's anger had been the trespass, and its inadvertent effect on interrupting his private moment. The second conclusion was that these two men were married.

This was, at long last, obvious to Bragi Holm, who was an obedient and lawful boy, unquestioning of the rules. He knew it was improper to display such affection (even privately) unless married. Bragi was prone to idolisation; Mr Sterling was strictly a proper gentleman, and thus he must be married. But Bragi had never heard any rules, nor even mention, about which gender could marry which. Sometimes he heard disapproving mutterings about people marrying above or below their station, or into an inappropriate family, and he knew such things were very important; but at no point had anyone stated that he must marry her. Gender seemed entirely irrelevant. How odd that he hadn't noticed this before!

But now that he had, and he'd witnessed the very rare existence of two married men, he felt something tantamount to tremendous relief start to fill his heart. Like cool water on a burn. The air in the barn suddenly felt fresh and cool and touched with wild lavender.

And the future suddenly seemed very, very interesting. But he daren't approach the thought of it.

"Thank you", he said again to the taller of the three, grateful as the discomfort of his hands began to ebb. Now that Bragi had finally had his eureka moment in among all of this, his tone was noticeably back to its old self, light and curious. Albeit still a little wary. "Oh — I'm sorry if I seemed alarmed, sir", he replied to Mr Sterling. "I suppose I was, a little. But it's only because I did not realise you're married!" He gave a slight, timid smile.
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   Benedict Sterling
#22
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Ari had given Ben a slight nod to show his support - approval - of Ben’s phrasing. Now, they only had to hope that the young man had a compassionate soul, open mind enough to let them be. He would not go so far as to say an apology or two and a pair of healed hands had made them deserve it; those were paltry deeds to pay for Mr. Holm’s discretion.

But Ari was allowing himself a little hope.

Not enough to quite understand why the boy suddenly seemed - relieved, or relaxed, but. It was fortunate Mr. Holm was looking Ben’s way as he spoke, because Ari’s mouth fell open particularly inelegantly, his mind reeling in an attempt to catch up with the stranger’s reasoning. What? Ben, married?

...To him?

The smallest thought of the idea gave Ari a painful jolt in his chest, too strong and dangerous a feeling to let himself succumb to; his eyes edged wider as he regarded the redhead and Ben back and forth for a moment, struck entirely dumb. If the lad could even voice that thought aloud, then he was young, so young, and too innocent by half. Ari couldn’t even recall when that casual naiveté had been lost in his own life: it felt as though he had been shackled by the knowledge that it was quite impossible since before he had ever imagined wanting anything like it.

If only they might keep up a delusion like that, and wake up tomorrow supposing that the truth. Only there was no way it could happen, and it would only lead to worse problems for them if they neglected to divest Mr. Holm of his wrong conclusions now. What if he went chattering about what he’d seen? (For the rest of Hogsmeade well knew Ben was not married - and that Ari was.)

Still, there was a small internal crumb of him that felt miserable to have to disappoint him so. He let his gaze linger on Ben a moment, and then heaved a sigh, sorry to shatter the night a second time. “I wish that were so, Mr. Holm,” Ari said quietly, “but I’m afraid that... is not the case.” He cleared his throat, feeling a creeping sense of shame to have to beg for this. “Which is why B- Mr. Sterling and I would be most indebted to you for your - discretion.”
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   Benedict Sterling, Margaret Goyle, Ophelia Devine


#23
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Of all the responses Ben had steeled himself for, it wasn't this. His eyes immediately went to Ari only to find his inner thoughts reflected directly on the man's face. And it wasn't often Ben had seen Ari this flummoxed. It wasn't easy to render Ben at a loss for words either, yet he found his cheeks flushing pink at the mere dream of being married to Ari. With his knowledge of Society, it hadn't even occurred to him, and the fact that Mr. Holm found it so easy to conclude was enough to make Ben freeze.

He shut his eyes. Even entertaining such a fantasy though was both heart-wrenching and blissful. It also made his head spin even more than it already was and he heard himself say, "I need to sit down."

And so he did. Flopping himself unceremoniously onto an obliging stack of hay, he ran a hand through his dark curls, looking up at both of the two other men. He opened his mouth again to speak but closed it again, imagining he looked quite like a fish at the moment. His eyes mirrored Ari's, widening even more as he processed what he'd just heard. Here, Ben thought he'd had the full conversation covered: approach the subject with caution and once Mr. Holm understood what they were asking of him, beseech him to keep what he saw to himself. But Mr. Holm hadn't even understood that bit.

He found himself grateful that Ari managed to find the words that he was unable to. As his eyes flickered up to meet Ari's he could see his own pain reflected in his blue-grey eyes. He took a breath, gazing intently at the redhead. "You see, Mr. Holm," He added, his tone gentle now. There was no need for harsh words when he was now certain the foreigner wasn't privy to the rules of society that they were caught breaking. He looked quickly at Ari. "The reason why we ask for your discretion is because...what you found him and I doing...is not erm-" Merlin help him; up until he realized his feelings for another man, Ben had always expected to deal with awkwardness like this with his own children. Now it felt like he was handed the exact situation he'd always planned on jokingly shoving onto his wife. Except this talk was to a near stranger, and he was handling it with Ari.

"Deemed in Society as....acceptable." He gazed back at Mr. Holm. With his elbows propped on his knees, he laced his fingers in front of him to steady himself on the hay-bale; a pensive motion, yet nonetheless perhaps betraying what he was pleading: I will do anything.
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   Margaret Goyle


[Image: scrVnQ.jpg]
#24
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Bragi looked down at his delicate hands, smiling slightly to find that they were as good as new — quite symbolic of the encounter turning from calamitous to kind, from frightening to fine. Yes... this would all be fine. But when Bragi looked up from his hands, it was to see both men suddenly aghast with some new calamity.

His slate blue eyes glanced between the two, alarmed by the similarities in their expressions. For a moment they both seemed pensively distant, and then... tortured. Bragi inhaled softly as finally the clouds parted and he saw the light.

It was perfectly reasonable that naive Bragi might come to another woefully wrong conclusion here: he might surmise that they were not married and that was the problem. And oh maybe the scandal of an extramarital affair had some part to play, but the true ache was far grander — they were both men, and the world would not let them marry. Bragi silently, vitally acknowledged that the fact that he'd never heard of same-sex marriage was not about rarity; it was about intolerance.

Bragi absentmindedly took Galahad's reins again, holding them loosely in one hand, as if for support. Much like Mr Sterling's descent onto a hay-bale granted him more steadiness.

A pause, and then — "I shan't tell a soul". As he addressed this to both men, his voice was steadier than it had been all evening. "I just... I just..." the steadiness was gone as he asked helplessly: "Is there no way to persuade Society that it is in fact acceptable?"

Up until now, Bragi had been entirely unquestioning of what Society deemed right and proper. But what fool had come up with this rule?

Somebody who'd never read a romance in their life.
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   Elias Grimstone
#25
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Ben was as blindsided by this as he was, then. Ari watched him flop onto a bale of hay, feeling quite as helpless as he did. He’d burdened Ben with the worst part of the explanation, he thought, having to tell the young man why they were both so worried. Tell Mr. Holm why he ought to be disturbed, horrified, offended by what he had seen.

But perhaps the miracle of this situation (so nearly a nightmare) was that Mr. Holm did not react that way at all. There was too sincere a solemnity in his voice to mistake his assurance for anything less than a promise: Ari didn’t even know him and still he trusted him, felt as though there was a light, looking onwards from here. All was not lost.

And what the boy said next; this time Ari felt a pang in his chest that made him wonder whether he was looking at himself as a boy, some oddly refracted memory of that crushing weight come back to haunt him. Wide, disbelieving blue eyes. Ari felt like he and Ben were stringing that albatross around the boy’s neck themselves.

Perhaps it was only compassion, perhaps it was only sympathy. Or perhaps it was something more -

Ari smiled sadly and shook his head, wishing there was anything else he might say. “Anyone who might would be risking a prison sentence, years of hard labour if they did. They would face certain social ruin.” They, he said, as if he was not talking about the men in this very building. “It’s... well, it’s a high price, you see, to confront a society which is - not easily persuaded.”

(For a moment, Ari could almost picture that the space in these stables existed entirely out of place and out of time. That there was nothing on the outside that could destroy them, that there was no one in the world who would care. That this was just life, this was just how things were, and they might be happy and honest and free.)

A lump rose to his throat; his voice was a murmur. “But thank you.”




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